Common chicory, Cichorium intybus, is a somewhat woody, perennial herbaceous plant of the dandelion family Asteraceae, usually with bright blue flowers, rarely white or pink. Many varieties are cultivated for salad leaves, chicons (blanched buds), or roots (var. sativum), which are baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute and food additive. In the 21st century, inulin, an extract from chicory root, has been used in food manufacturing as a sweetener and source of dietary fiber.
Chicory is grown as a forage crop for livestock. It lives as a wild plant on roadsides in its native Europe, and is now common in North America, China, and Australia, where it has become widely naturalized. "Chicory" is also the common name in the United States for curly endive (Cichorium endivia); these two closely related species are often confused.
Common chicory is also known as blue daisy, blue dandelion, blue sailors, blue weed, bunk, coffeeweed, cornflower, hendibeh, horseweed, ragged sailors, succory, wild bachelor's buttons, and wild endive. (Note: "Cornflower" is commonly applied to Centaurea cyanus.) Common names for varieties of var. foliosum include endive, radicchio, radichetta, Belgian endive, French endive, red endive, sugarloaf, and witloof (or witlof).
When flowering, chicory has a tough, grooved, and more or less hairy stem, from 30 to 100 cm (10 to 40 in) tall. The leaves are stalked, lanceolate and unlobed. The flower heads are 2 to 4 cm (1⁄4 to 1 1⁄2 inches) wide, and usually light purple or lavender (see picture) and it has been described as light blue, rarely white or pink. Of the two rows of involucral bracts, the inner is longer and erect, the outer is shorter and spreading. It flowers from July until October. The achenes have no pappus (feathery hairs), but do have toothed scales on top.
Root chicory (Cichorium intybus var. sativum) has been cultivated in Europe as a coffee substitute. The roots are baked, roasted, ground, and used as an additive, especially in the Mediterranean region (where the plant is native). As a coffee additive, it is also mixed in Indian filter coffee, and in parts of Southeast Asia, South Africa, and southern United States, particularly in New Orleans. In France a mixture of 60% chicory and 40% coffee is sold as Ricoré. It has been more widely used during economic crises such as the Great Depression in the 1930s and during World War II in Continental Europe. Chicory, with sugar beet and rye, was used as an ingredient of the East German Mischkaffee (mixed coffee), introduced during the "East German coffee crisis" of 1976–79. It is also added to coffee in Spanish, Greek, Turkish, Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian cuisines.
Some beer brewers use roasted chicory to add flavor to stouts (commonly expected to have a coffee-like flavour). Others have added it to strong blond Belgian-style ales, to augment the hops, making a witlofbier, from the Dutch name for the plant.
Wild chicory leaves usually have a bitter taste. Their bitterness is appreciated in certain cuisines, such as in the Ligurian and Apulian regions of Italy and also in the southern part of India. In Ligurian cuisine, wild chicory leaves are an ingredient of preboggion and in Greek cuisine of horta; in the Apulian region, wild chicory leaves are combined with fava bean puree in the traditional local dish fave e cicorie selvatiche. In Albania, the leaves are used as a spinach substitute, mainly served simmered and marinated in olive oil, or as ingredient for fillings of byrek.
By cooking and discarding the water, the bitterness is reduced, after which the chicory leaves may be sautéed with garlic, anchovies, and other ingredients. In this form, the resulting greens might be combined with pasta or accompany meat dishes.
- Radicchio usually has variegated red or red and green leaves. Some only refer to the white-veined red-leaved type as radicchio, also known as red endive and red chicory. It has a bitter and spicy taste, which mellows when it is grilled or roasted. It can also be used to add color and zest to salads. It is largely used in Italy in different varieties, the most famous being the ones from Treviso (known as radicchio rosso di Treviso), from Verona (radicchio di Verona), and Chioggia (radicchio di Chioggia), which are classified as an IGP. It is also common in Greece.
- Sugarloaf looks rather like cos lettuce, with tightly packed leaves.
- Belgian endive is known in Dutch as witloof or witlof ("white leaf"), endive or (very rarely) witloof in the United States, indivia in Italy, endivias in Spain, chicory in the UK, as witlof in Australia, endive in France, and chicon in parts of northern France, in Wallonia and (in French) in Luxembourg. It has a small head of cream-coloured, bitter leaves. It is grown completely underground or indoors in the absence of sunlight to prevent the leaves from turning green and opening up (etiolation). The plant has to be kept just below the soil surface as it grows, only showing the very tip of the leaves. It is often sold wrapped in blue paper to protect it from light, so to preserve its pale colour and delicate flavour. The smooth, creamy white leaves may be served stuffed, baked, boiled, cut and cooked in a milk sauce, or simply cut raw. The tender leaves are slightly bitter; the whiter the leaf, the less bitter the taste. The harder inner part of the stem at the bottom of the head can be cut out before cooking to prevent bitterness. Belgium exports chicon/witloof to over 40 different countries. The technique for growing blanched endives was accidentally discovered in the 1850s at the Botanical Garden of Brussels in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, Belgium. Today France is the largest producer of endive.
- Catalogna chicory (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum), also known as puntarelle, includes a whole subfamily (some varieties from Belgian endive and some from radicchio) of chicory and is used throughout Italy.
Although leaf chicory is often called "endive", true endive (Cichorium endivia) is a different species in the genus, distinct from Belgian endive.
Chicory root and inulin
Around 1970, it was found that the root contains up to 20% inulin, a polysaccharide similar to starch. Inulin is mainly found in the plant family Asteraceae as a storage carbohydrate (for example Jerusalem artichoke, dahlia, yacon, etc.). It is used as a sweetener in the food industry with a sweetening power 10% that of sucrose and is sometimes added to yogurts as a prebiotic. Inulin is also gaining popularity as a source of soluble dietary fiber and functional food.
Chicory root extract is a dietary supplement or food additive produced by mixing dried, ground chicory root with water, and removing the insoluble fraction by filtration and centrifugation. Other methods may be used to remove pigments and sugars. It is used as a source of soluble fiber. Fresh chicory root typically contains, by dry weight, 68% inulin, 14% sucrose, 5% cellulose, 6% protein, 4% ash, and 3% other compounds. Dried chicory root extract contains, by weight, about 98% inulin and 2% other compounds. Fresh chicory root may contain between 13 and 23% inulin, by total weight.
Agents responsible for bitterness
The bitter substances are primarily the two sesquiterpene lactones, lactucin and lactucopicrin. Other ingredients are aesculetin, aesculin, cichoriin, umbelliferone, scopoletin, 6,7-dihydrocoumarin, and further sesquiterpene lactones and their glycosides.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||96 kJ (23 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||4 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)|
|†Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults. |
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||71 kJ (17 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||3.1 g|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)|
|†Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults. |
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
In traditional medicine, chicory has been listed as one of the 38 plants used to prepare Bach flower remedies. According to Cancer Research UK, "essence therapists believe that using essences can help to increase your mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing ... Essences are not used to prevent, control, or cure cancer or any other physical condition."
Chicory is highly digestible for ruminants and has a low fiber concentration. Chicory roots are an "excellent substitute for oats" for horses due to their protein and fat content. Chicory contains a low quantity of reduced tannins that may increase protein utilization efficiency in ruminants.
Some tannins reduce intestinal parasites. Dietary chicory may be toxic to internal parasites, with studies of ingesting chicory by farm animals having lower worm burdens, leading to its use as a forage supplement. Although chicory might have originated in France, Italy, and India, much development of chicory for use with livestock has taken place in New Zealand.
Forage chicory varieties
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- Puna (Grasslands Puna)
- Developed in New Zealand, Grasslands Puna is well adapted to different climates, being grown from Alberta, Canada, to New Mexico and Florida. It is resistant to bolting, which leads to high nutrient levels in the leaves in spring. It also has high resistance to grazing.
- Forage Feast
- A variety from France used for human consumption and also for wildlife plots, where animals such as deer might graze. It is very cold-hardy, and being lower in tannins than other forage varieties, is suitable for human consumption.
- Choice has been bred for high winter and early-spring growth activity, and lower amounts of lactucin and lactone, which are believed to taint milk. It is also use for seeding deer wildlife plots.
- Oasis was bred for increased lactone rates for the forage industry, and for higher resistance to fungal diseases such as Sclerotinia.[clarification needed]
- Puna II
- This variety is more winter-active than most others, which leads to greater persistence and longevity.
- A New Zealand variety, it is used as a planting companion for forage brassicas. More prone to early flowering than other varieties, it has higher crowns more susceptible to overbrowsing.
- Six Point
- A United States variety, it is very similar to Puna.
The chicory plant is one of the earliest cited in recorded literature. Horace mentions it in reference to his own diet, which he describes as very simple: "Me pascunt olivae, me cichorea, me malvae" ("As for me, olives, endives, and mallows provide sustenance"). In 1766, Frederick the Great banned the importation of coffee into Prussia, leading to the development of a coffee substitute by Brunswick innkeeper Christian Gottlieb Förster (died 1801), who gained a concession in 1769/70 to manufacture it in Brunswick and Berlin. By 1795, 22 to 24 factories of this type were in Brunswick. Lord Monboddo describes the plant in 1779 as the "chicoree", which the French cultivated as a pot herb. In Napoleonic Era France, chicory frequently appeared as an adulterant in coffee, or as a coffee substitute. Chicory was also adopted as a coffee substitute by Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War, and has become common in the United States. It was also used in the United Kingdom during the Second World War, where Camp Coffee, a coffee and chicory essence, has been on sale since 1885.
The cultivated chicory plant has a history reaching back to ancient Egyptian time. Medieval monks raised the plants and when coffee was introduced to Europe, the Dutch thought that chicory made a lively addition to the bean drink.
In the United States, chicory root has long been used as a substitute for coffee in prisons. By the 1840s, the port of New Orleans was the second-largest importer of coffee (after New York). Louisianans began to add chicory root to their coffee when Union naval blockades during the American Civil War cut off the port of New Orleans, thereby creating a long-standing tradition.
A common meal in Rome, puntarelle, is made with chicory sprouts. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that chicory is a native plant of western Asia, North Africa, and Europe.
The chicory flower is often seen as inspiration for the Romantic concept of the Blue Flower (e.g. in German language Blauwarte ≈ blue lookout by the wayside). It could open locked doors, according to European folklore.
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